I was born in 1985 in destitute poverty in Cebu City, Philippines. My birth name was Desiree Maru. I was relinquished to an orphanage in my birth city, Asilo De La Milagrosa after I was born, where Catholic nuns were my primary caretakers.
Here is a link that shows you a digital archive I made of the artifacts of my orphaned past. This archive contains old film photos of my life at the orphanage and digitized government documents from my intercountry adoption process from the 80's, all to education and shows the nature of my orphaned experience and adoption at the time.
I was adopted in 1987 at the age of two and my name changed to Stephanie Flood. I was flown out to the Midwest in the United States, where I lived with Caucasian parents that I'd never met before, and an adopted older brother who was also from the Philippines.
I recall during the first years, I adored my new family, and really looked up to my adoptive mother and father. We got along beautifully. All of us, even my adopted brother in these early years, had fairly normal family dynamics. My brother was outgoing, warm, and I wanted to do everything with him. We did things like puppet shows in his bunk bed, we played out in the snow in the winter time, and in the summer time, we did so many more things together. We were an amazing family unit during those first few years.
Everything started to change as my adopted brother began showing signs of post-trauma, aggression, and a volatile personality. Our family dynamics became severely impacted by the pain that this issue was created for all of us.
My adoptive brother was also verbally abusive toward me and would even try to attack me sometimes. It didn’t help that my parents started spending more time working and less time at home either. They at times my parents exacerbated the problem by bringing out their own frustration towards my brother and I, in different ways.
We moved as a family to Phoenix, Arizona when I was 15 for a fresh start, but the dynamics became more dysfunctional during my time in high school. I moved out of my adoptive family’s house in Phoenix, Arizona when I turned 18. I had to leave for so many reasons. Mostly, I was seeking to experience life on my own. I was desperate to become independent but at the same time, I also had a lot of soul-searching and truth-seeking to do.
I moved to Flagstaff in 2006 where I pursued a Bachelor’s in Journalism. In between my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, I had lived at my adoptive parent’s house at transitional times, which was very helpful, but ultimately not very good for my self-growth.
I faced many personal challenges as an adoptee. Identity issues, integrating into the American culture, and being brown in a small Midwestern town in Wisconsin are a few examples of what I had to overcome in addition to experiencing micro-aggressions. Having parents that were abusive during my younger years also scarred me. And having an adopted older brother whom I adored, but was post-traumatic was very difficult to deal with.
Additionally, I struggled just to be a normal, everyday American girl. I struggled to fit in.
I had to hide the problems I was experiencing as best as I could too.
I would study different subjects independently and go to the library to read a lot. I would always try out something new to do or a new hobby to work on. I loved listening to music, especially on the radio. I also self-trained in meditation at a very early age as it helped me keep a balanced mind. I was also able to develop my own sense of faith.
Presently, my major challenge is healing while balancing courses for my second Master’s degree and my new library job. Healing for me consists of learning and training in Buddhist practices, hiking, dancing, taking road or train trips, writing and creating art. I recently did EMDR therapy and that allowed me to start confronting suppressed pain from my past.
In this healing process, I've had to keep some distance from my adoptive family too, in order to focus on taking care of myself and my emotional well-being.
I had a reunion with my birth mother in 2012 when I was in my late twenties. We had the reunion in my old orphanage in the Philippines and it was difficult and emotionally challenging. She didn't know English that well, so we had to have a social worker translate for us. She was really different than me in regards to personality. I felt as if something was a little off with her too, especially after she told me troubling details about how she conceived me, and other things; for example, I was the only child out of five she had given up for adoption, my other half-siblings each had different fathers, and she lied on my biographical papers.
She also gave an incorrect birth date by a few days. I felt hesitant with her but was being as polite as possible. She was emotional and talked most of the time in the reunion. After meeting my birth mother, it took me a year to work up the courage to write to the address she gave me at the reunion. I never got a reply from her. To this day, her whereabouts, her identity, information on my birth relatives, and information on my biological history and heritage, largely remain a mystery. I wrote and published this experienced in my multimedia MFA thesis.
At this point in my life, from all the processing and investigations, and from having a "full-circle" adoptee experience, I've come out knowing myself much better, quirks and all. However, I know that my past and adoptee experience is highly extreme relative to most. I’m very aware of the emotional and psychological risks this kind of experience can lead to, but I also know that it brings huge opportunities for positive personal transformations as well.
My challenging moments can be when I’m frustrated with myself. I've had to push myself so hard, alone, while coping with my constant feelings of not being at my best, or of not being good enough at all. Sometimes I can feel a bit drained, but that's when I really push myself to get busy with life; to not stop, to keep going, and to not give up. Even if I'm doing this alone, I know now that am whole as myself. And this is a good start to the life that I want to live.
One thing that I'm proud of is that I never became a drug addict despite many experiences that could have led to that situation. I'm glad that instead of turning to addictive substances, I chose art. I’m proud of the fact that, when times were tough, I found ways to pick myself back up. I have the ability to rise after I've fallen down. I have the ability to kick back even when I'm feeling completely forlorn. I'm proud of my personal accomplishments, and random acts of positivity I've done in life, from the accidental to the ridiculous. I'm proud that I kept seeking solutions and productive things to do, even when I struggled with my direction in my personal life and my career. I'm proud that now, I work out on a regular basis. I try to eat healthfully and take care of my body. I'm proud of myself for finding a path to stability.
I wish I had been given access to all of my biographical and historical information since the beginning. I wish I would have been given information on not only my birth parents, but also my biological family tree, and the heritage from which I came from. I especially wish I would have been given the medical history because this is highly important to have.
After having experienced the ins-and-outs and best-case to worst-case scenarios of adoption, I fully believe that knowing more is better than knowing less, or worse, knowing nothing at all. Information is power. Maybe that’s why I'm studying Information Science in my second Master's degree. Because I believe that knowledge and choice is pivotal to human progress.
Erasing an orphan's or adoptee's past like it never existed is a horrible idea, and I simply cannot rationalize that decision or imagine the reasoning behind it. It only leads to more unnecessary trauma. We need this history and information so that we have personal identifiers. I wish there were historical reports on every adoptee or human for that matter, that is displaced in this world, and that they had guaranteed access to that information if and when they wanted to learn more about their biological history. I don't think there should be a legal age limit to access this information either. That way, a displaced person could, in theory, attain life-saving information without necessarily even confronting their birth family.
I just wish I would have been able to keep my history and heritage.
My goals this year are to finish this Master’s degree in Library and Information Science and to stay at this library job and fulfill my commitment which ends in May 2018. I hope to finish my thesis e-portfolio this summer as well and attain a salaried job.
I want to continue creating an environment for myself where I’m happy every day, taking proper care of myself, being of service to others, and am able to continue with my recycled mixed-media art and to raise awareness of global issues.
In ten years, I hope to be working at a public library where I'm helping diverse communities, especially individuals in marginalized communities and individuals who are at-risk. I want to also be able to go on paid vacations where I can travel to other countries and visit orphanages and locations of spiritual and cultural significance. And, I want to write a book or a few books by then that document the children in these orphanages.
I want to continue living a stable, healthy life. One where I'm comfortably renting or owning a really nice place to call home, with a dog, and a porch where I can write while I sip cider whiskey on autumn days and take walks to the nearby market.
Those are my dreams and aspirations.
They give me the drive to continue working hard and taking care of myself as best I can.
The only things that are truly holding me back in life right now are technical and academic. I've just been able to find a job in a field that I actually enjoy, which is working in the library, and I have to finish this degree before I can move on to a full-time, salary-paid position.
Sharing my story with you all is the beginning of a new era for me.
I'm changing my own outlook on my past life experiences by owning what has happened to me rather than hiding from my fears any longer.
This life experience brings out marginalized topics and views containing societal workings, cultural identity, governmental systems, personal struggle, global issues, domestic family unit dynamics, human trauma and psychological-emotional development.
Sharing my story is important to me because I feel I hold a lot of wisdom and understanding from this grueling, difficult, life experience, that can hopefully educate others.
Sharing my story is also important because it might encourage others to voice their own stories. And, in the end, I hope expressing my life struggles and views can bring a greater cultural awareness to adoptee struggles, and aid in the much needed, progressive change with inter-country adoption and how orphans today are being treated.
After my adoptee experience, academic studies and knowledge of media, I know that this subject very critical and marginalized and that this is not widely discussed. I think there needs to be more dialogue on this subject since the world is rife with human displacement. I think we can create solutions by bringing what we know, as adoptees, to the collective table.
This is why I had recently agreed to be a United States Representative at Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV). On this site, I’m a regular contributor to my own blog column about my adult adoptee life, and writing on subjects like intercountry adoption and orphaned issues. Raising awareness on this issue is critical to finding local and global solutions.
And, I’m also a multimedia artist and creative writer who contributes work to literary magazines. Please take a look at My Website or my Instagram.
It’d be wonderful to connect on Facebook too.